Should the U.S. Write a New Constitution?
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Should the U.S. Write a New Constitution?

September 9, 2019

(theme music) – If we were to create
America from scratch today how would we create our user manual? And who would write it?. (inspirational electronic music) What is the average
turnaround time or shelf life of a constitution internationally? – Internationally it’s only about 17 years and it’s actually going down. In recent decades it’s
been only about 12 years. – And ours has lasted for– – Over 200 years, right? – Okay.
– Yeah, so. – Okay, so we’re about due? – Seventeen… well
– Ha ha ha. – that’s what some people say actually. – [Toussaint] Writing or
re-writing a constitution is not a job for the faint of heart. So I ask you, Where on this Earth could we find a nation that is brave enough, passionate enough, and maybe even foolish enough to take on such a challenge? – My name is Silja Bara Omarsdottir and I lecture at the
faculty of Political Science at the university of Iceland. – Thanks so much for taking
the time to be with us. (lighthearted music)
Let me first ask you, why did Iceland decide to
reform their constitution? – [Marie] Well in 2008 Iceland
had a financial collapse and a lot of people suggested that the problems that we had as a society would have been avoided if we’d had a more modern constitution. The Icelanders got their own constitution from the King of Denmark in 1874 and then when Iceland became
a sovereign republic in 1944 Denmark was then under occupation, so the constitution was
very quickly re-written, essentially replacing the word
King with the word Resident. – [Toussaint] So now let’s
jump back to the United States. (“The Stars and Stripes
Forever” by John Philip Sousa) When we wrote our constitution it was done at a constitutional convention in which influential men got together hashed out their ideas and once they had a working document they got approved by at
least nine of the states. Just like that, the constitution was born. Today we still have two processes for proposing new
constitutional amendments both of which require the
participation of the states before they can pass.
(relaxing music) In the first version which has been used to
create our current amendments Congress comes up with an idea and then 3/4 of the
states need to approve it. In the second version which has never been
used in American history the states could call
an Article V Convention which essentially allows
them to get together and propose whatever amendments they want. After that if they can get
approval from 3/4 of the states those amendments become law. – Either Congress has to pass a law – Mm hmm.
– and send it to the state legislatures to change parts of the constitution or the states can initiate
a request to Congress to call a constitutional convention. And if we wanted to do
the whole constitution that’s probably the route because you’d want to have a time for people to meet and talk just like they did when they
were framing the constitution. – Many scholars have argued that an Article V Convention would border on chaos
(politician yelling) because there are no
rules in the constitution about how a convention
like this should operate. It would technically be above the Congress and even possibly above the courts and pretty much anything
could come out of it. At the same time it’s not that fundamentally different from how we wrote our current constitution in the first place. So if we were ever going to
re-write the constitution on a large scale this is probably how we’d do it. – Do you think we should be
re-write the constitution? – I am skeptical about whether it would provide any more human rights than it does. I think there may be as many people who would try to roll
back some of the rights that these minorities have as that would try to extend them. – But for us this might not matter. We’re talking from scratch. Which is why, if I may, I’d like to do a quick dramatic reading from the constitution: (beep) (beep) (beep) Now let me pause it here because as you can probably guess that’s not the constitution, as in the U.S. constitution. It was actually written in 2008
for the Republic of Kosovo. (rewinding audio) But here’s the amazing part; one of the people who played a key role in writing this document was a lawyer living in Minnesota. – [John] I was privileged
to have the opportunity to work with people in Kosovo to draft their constitution when they became independent in 2008. – [Toussaint] That is Chief
United States District Judge John Tunheim and I met with him at his chambers to ask you more about this constitution. – [John] It’s a little warped right now but that’s what it looks like. – Wow. – You know when the Soviet Union broke up – Mm hmm.
– there were how many, what, 14 or
15 different countries – Yeah.
– that needed to write new constitutions,
– Yeah. – And they did. And some of those countries had had fundamental changes in
government since then so they’ve written a new constitutions out of that experience.
– Mmm. – [John] There’s a lot of constitutions that have been written
in the last 25 years. – Judge Tunheim’s work represents something kind of
fascinating in today’s world; legal professionals being commissioned to turn a country’s goals
into a legal document. But is this right for us? Because, let’s be honest, I’m guessing that when we asked if we were making America
from scratch today who would be writing our constitution you probably didn’t picture
someone like Judge John Tunheim. Maybe thought it was going to
be a little more like this: – Oh, you promised! – You promised, that’s not fair. – It’s not a question of
fairness, it’s separation of– – Go back to Russia, commie! – Hey you go back to Russia.
(crowd murmuring) (intense music)
– This brings us to one of the real tensions
in our country today: Who should be writing the rules? When our country was
founded, as we all know, it was influential men like James Madison who put the actual pen to paper. And today, well, there are parallels. So what if we really broke the mold and decided to take a new approach, like crowd sourcing? It’s diverse, it’s inclusive,
everybody weighs in and the people finally have a voice. That actually brings us
right back to Iceland. – So a lot of people have said that the Icelandic
constitution was crowdsourced and I wouldn’t really say that. In 2010 the decision was made to have a constitutional assembly elected by the population to write a proposal
for a new constitution. This group of 25 people, we always sat around and
we make the decisions as to what text would
actually be included. Every time we made a proposal we would present that
and plug it on Facebook and publish it online and we would ask people
to send us comments, to leave comments on the document and tell us what they thought but people couldn’t
actually write anything other than the 25 people
who were in the council. – Ultimately Iceland’s new constitution was not officially adopted. However it was a good example
of when the country says, “Hey we need to try something new.” And just by having the conversation it led to a lot of good policy ideas. – I wouldn’t say that
it was a waste of time. It actually created at
least a short lived debate about what it is that we want to be and what our values are as a society. Reminding the people and the government that there are things
that remain to be fixed. – So what would it be like if we decided to follow the example of Iceland? What ideas would you fight for to include in a new constitution and what elements would you leave behind? Hey everybody, it’s Toussaint Morrison. Thank you so much for
watching this episode. On our next episode we’re gonna talk about if our data should have rights. If you have something to say about that submit a video to the
link in the description and we might show it on the next show. Thanks for watching and
don’t forget to subscribe. This program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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  1. When Egypt was rewriting their constitution, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that they look to South Africa's constitution, as a more recent example. Although whether South Africa has achieved the goals set by their constitution is debatable.

  2. I don't think changing the constitution fully would change things for the better. Because in the current US political climate, you've got a bunch of people who are going to fight for opposing values, because they believe in opposing human values. For instance, some people are going to try to be inclusive and diverse because they believe being xenophobic is a shitty thing to be, others are going to try to fight for exclusivity and for a rigid, unchanging definition of what a "True American" is, because they believe that ethnocentrism is good and inclusivity is bad.
    If the people can't agree on basic (and I do really mean basic) values, the constitution they write is going to be something that nobody wants. We need to change how people think before we change the law.

  3. If we were to rewrite the constitution, I would want the electoral college done away with. With today's technology there's no reason to not have the popular vote be the winning vote. I would also like to see something done about the "two party system" (even though there's more than two parties). Having 2 opposing parties voting out of spite or to gain votes is toxic and creates deadlock in government.

  4. Should our data have rights? Such a short question for so much nuance. I'm 7 lines into the rest of this post and decided to delete it (too much TL:DR potential) It began with "What consists of our data and of which of it should we have autonomy".

  5. There was so much potential for an episode here, but you didn't do enough with it. You could have gone over different examples of constitutions that have cropped up in the past few decades or so. There's not enough here to feed my brain. I know this stuff is designed to hit the masses and spark curiosity, but you really got to get into the meat of this stuff. People are smart, and glossing over things and not going into detail about a lot of stuff just isn't going to cut it. I know a lot of effort goes into making these videos, but you got to do a little more.

  6. The first thing that needs to be done is remove the deadline of the Equal Rights Amendment! However that must be done by Congress so that states can finish ratifying it.

    As for adopting a whole new document? I don't think it would be easy what so ever! Even if the state legislatures activate an Article V convention, there are no rules to follow on it besides "that on the petition of ⅔ of the state legislatures a convention must take place" even if states have some sort of control over it, how many delegates do each state get in order to be fair to all of them? Would they be appointed by the state legislatures or independent candidates of their respective states? However, I'm pretty sure if such a convention is to take place it will be open season even if those delegates have a mandate from their state, I mean the current constitution was adopted outside the amending formula of the Articles of Confederation what would guarantee those delegates would follow those orders? However, the Constitution of the United States is more respected than the Articles of Confederation ever were in their time as states were pretty much doing whatever they wanted when it was in effect.

    However, I think that updating somethings are needed, it would be nice if references to slavery didn't exist anymore and updating some of the terminology to much more modern language would also be nice, but more concrete stuff would be enfranchising the U.S. Territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, USVI, CNMI, etc.) during presidential elections like what was done with the District of Columbia with the 23rd amendment, while also abolishing the Electoral College at the same time. Another would be giving residents of D.C. representation in the House of Representatives as they so rightly deserve according to the slice of the population after each census. It would be incredible if those things could be done in one amendment or several at once like was done with the Bill of Rights but I doubt it that'll ever happen again! Protecting all people right to vote, clarifying that corporations don't have the same rights as people, non-consecutive terms for members of Congress, campaign spending reform, line item veto for the president.
    The biggest thing might be updating the amending formula, I advocate a modified version of the ratification process that Australia uses as it recognizes people and states. After being approved by the Parliament through a similar process as the U.S., amendments go through referendum; but it isn't a simple majority that decides the fate of the whole country, it has to be a double majority of both the country as a whole and of the majority of states, neither supersedes the other. The modification could be that instead of a majority of people in a majority of states, it could be a majority of people in ⅔ of the various states.

    #ERANow! #AbolishTheElectoralCollege #TermlimitsForCongress

  7. Very intriguing video. I did have a question about Article V of the amendment process, as I am not a political science major: Could we use that article to separate a state from the nation. During the 2008 financial crisis, I remember Texas and California were considering it strongly, and a few other states had it under consideration. I followed this debate closely, and remember that it was often mentioned that they couldn't legally separate from the nation. Would article V overrule this speculation and allow a state to leave the nation?

  8. I wrote a draft of a new American constitution about a year ago. (I envisioned it as a constitution not for the whole United States, but for the Great Lakes region, following a breakup of the U.S. into smaller nations.) Basically, the gist of it went like this:

    One delegation per state, elected to a federal council, with one representative per metropolitan area, plus one additional representative for rural areas. (I modified this part several times, and I'm still not entirely sure I like it.)
    One cabinet of ministers appointed (based on merit) to act as executives, and with strict limits on power. (Most of the power would be held by the states.)
    One federal investigator separate from the rest of government with the power to investigate political corruption, elected by direct national popular vote. (Campaign donations would be considered bribery, and grounds for removal.)
    Strict term limits, and representatives must live in their represented areas for at least one year prior to elections.
    Cheap communal housing provided for representatives.
    Unanimous vote of all delegations required for declaration of war, and explicit goals set prior to declaration.
    A list of basic rights which must be upheld at all levels of government, including: free speech, free religion, bear arms, assembly, trial by jury, no slavery, etc. But also: no military draft, no right to vote denied based on prior felonies, permission for private banks to mint currencies (provided they are commodity-based, rather than fiat), automatic pardons for offenders of laws that have been repealed… and a few others I can't think of at the moment.
    And no distinction between natural-born citizens and immigrants. ALL residents of more than one year have equal rights.
    NO PRESIDENT. Only a council chairperson elected by the council and with the power to break tie votes.

    That's basically all I can remember at the moment. I also had some provisions for states to alter borders or veto treaties which affect them. Also, all the federal elections use ranked-choice voting. (That's to keep a two-party system from becoming dominant.)

  9. The ability of the supreme court to essentially interpret in the constitution kinda functions as this already, no?

  10. Should America rewrite its constitution? Yes. Why? The short answer is: The voting, healthcare, education, legal, and prison/jail systems and gun laws, drug laws, and so much more are either massively outdated or outright bad. For the long answer watch "Everything that's wrong with America" aka "Last Week Tonight".

  11. US constitution last for long time because not have many detail just how government work where split/share power. Modern constitution is small book, too much detail, detail should use other law. Changes for US constitution: 1) need method for state leave US, 2) election for Congress/Parliament and President/Prime Minister different year (one even years other odd years).

  12. I'm disappointed by this video not mentioning the Koch brothers' current machinations to attempt to get an article V convention so they can destroy this country by completely eliminating all the current protections and freedoms granted by the constitution. They already have most of the states they need bought and paid for, just 3-4 more and they can call a convention.

  13. I think you can take 'writing a new constitution from scratch' as a hypothetical challenge (while secretly being completely serious about it).

    I'm thinking, a TV series with the premise of 'due to this unexpected turn of events, we need to come up with a new constitution.' Maybe make it part of the next StarWars or something, so you already have a big established fan-base for crowd-sourcing.
    Just have enough 'experts' in the story writing team to form a very informed document to begin with before putting it out to the public to discuss/debate about. A ton of people would love to get involved, because 1. it's all fiction after all and 2. it could affect the future of their beloved fictional world!
    The story-writing team responsible need to be diverse, including lawyers but also people of all different minorities and social science experts and human rights experts etc.
    If done well, it may actually get used by educational institutions as an example that kids enjoy and that would get more and more people involved in the debates.

    If nothing else, the exercise will give us an overview of the actual things that need to be changed in the current one.

    Of course, the whole thing is just a good hypothetical idea and much harder to execute in reality.

  14. You seem to be very sure about wanting to change without giving any reason to change. You assume our Constitutional longevity must be a flaw to overcome, not a virtue.. Is there a substantive flaw large enough that could not be fixed through Article 5 by amending a portion, that otherwise leaves our Constitutional Republic intact? Because I don't see a fatal flaw like that and you present no fatal flaw and absent that it seems much more reasonable to conclude that a Constitution still functioning intact for 230 years is a sign that we have found something that works. and to get rid of something that works seems downright foolish, if not dangerous….. I am certainly open to a convincing argument that what we have is fundamentally and irrevocably broken in such a drastic way the only option is to raise it to the ground and start from scratch.
    The perfect is the enemy of the good and pursuing it merely for the sake of pursuit will almost certainly leave us worse off than when we started

  15. Interestingly enough, I know Judge Tunheim I was a clerk for Judge Nancy Brasel while they were both on MN district court (still are). Speaking as a Constitutional law attorney myself, I'm sure a Constitutional convention with distinguished legal minds of the same caliber as Judge Tunheim we would quite possibly end up with something good … But we have something good. I don't see why "the Constitution of 1787 has been successfully been working for us for 230 years and counting" is a reason to scrap what we have now. It really doesn't matter if you are convinced you have a formula to call an article 5 convention of the states and it really doesn't matter if you can find 25 distinguished legal minds who are well respected as top constitutional law experts to replace something that isn't broken…

  16. If the idiots in D.C were to try to do this. There would be blood in the streets. But at the same time, for some people that'd be okay as long as one side wins.

  17. Make the US a parliamentary republic, with the House electing a Prime Minister, and the House being elected in 5-winner districts for proportional representation. Do all federal elections every 4 years with 4-year terms, and give states regressively more Senators the more people the have.

    Reform the Supreme Court to let the House and Senate each appoint 2 Justices with a 2/3 majority every 2 years for a 12-year term.

    Ban offensive wars in the Constitution. Ban political "donations" by corporations completely and by people over 0.5% of the median yearly income, per year. Tax all income by former federal and state politicians over 2x the median income at 100%, as well as all wealth they have over 2x the median wealth, to curb down on personal corruption.

  18. Lol if a new constitution were made today it would look more like north korea laws and i would love to see that happen so i could laugh and people stupid faces when they cry they need freedoms and rights when they are in jail for protesting.

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